Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Long Road To Nibbana

The other (well, as well as all the other ones and the general “chuck it all in and go on holiday for six months” thing) foolish thing we did in Chalong was walk to Big Buddha.

Before you write us off as cultural heathen, I’ll explain. It wasn’t Buddha that was the problem, it was the fact we decided to trek 10km, on foot, in shorts and Vans trainers, to get there.

Quite often, Andy and I will have an idea about a place, that flies in the face of conventional sense or transportation setup. In California, it was the idea that we could ride heavy steel beach cruisers up and down canyons to get to class.  On this occasion it was ignoring the fact that everyone else was going by scooter or taxi, and embracing an “invigorating amble” in the countryside.

And so Thursday morning we set off, equipped with long skirt/scarf affair (me, temples frown on lady legs and shoulders), mosquito repellent (to stop us being bitten) antihistamine (in case we were and Andy started going into anaphylactic shock, he’s a bit body sensitive), suntan lotion (it was pretty much high noon), six large bottles of water (obvious) and some flipflops (me again, I just don’t like having hot feet).  It was like an Xtreme Churchgoing Expedition.

Before we could reach spiritual nirvana, we had to walk along the motorway. The first 4km of the journey were spent on the hard shoulder (no pavements in these parts), dodging lorries and drain holes, and accompanied by continuous horn honking and calls of “Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?” (pretty much any time Thai people see Farangs walking they assume they have only ventured out in order to find transport).  Even this waterbuffalo looked at us like we were mad.

Around 2km in, I decided that what would really help a 10km trek in crazy arse heat would be a face like thunder and a mild case of “woe is me-itis”.  In case you have any doubt (unlikely) it didn’t make things easier.

After 4km, we got to turn off the motorway, onto a smaller road up the mountain. Handily, this point is stocked with stalls selling tourist tat, offerings for the statues and coconut water.

Remarkably, given my love of tat, I chose the most refreshing option.

Just past this delightful sausage display (doesn’t everyone hang their meat by the main road?) we found the bottom of the hill.

What followed next involved another 4km, some “look at the amazing view” comments from Andy, quite a lot of groaning and puffing on my part, and some elephants (sadly chained up as a tourist attraction, so we didn’t stop to take photos with them).

Inspired perhaps by the idea of “Sandwishes”, about three quarters of the way up we stopped for a coffee and to slip off our shoes.

Post coffee, I couldn’t get mine on again, so I switched to flip flops. Logically this seems crazy, and we all know I love a whinge, but they served me well for the rest of the day.

After around 2 hours, we finally made it to the top. I swathed myself in additional layers until all flesh was covered (it wasn’t a sartorial high point, I’ll admit) and we went sightseeing.

The Big Buddha is indeed very, very large, 45 metres/147 feet tall. Sadly at the moment, he’s wearing a bit of scaffolding (they’re developing the site into a large-scale tourist attraction and spiritual hub) but it was still impressive.
There was also a little golden Buddha (12 metres/40 feet) and plenty of monk effigies where you could think nice thoughts and zen out a bit.  

Perhaps it’s because of the large numbers of tourists marauding around (some of whom were upsettingly sitting on the laps of statues) or the fact that I’m not a practising Buddhist, but I didn’t get the hit of karmic calm I was expecting. It was however a good time to reflect on our travels and family and friends back home, and buy a bit of marble in their honor to be included in the renovations.

Then it was time to laugh at some monkeys (one of whom was drinking pop that had been left out for the gods) and sample some coconut ice cream.

We’d obviously run out of steam or camera batteries (we did take a lot of photos of those monkeys) by the return journey, as we’re completely bereft of imagery. Suffice to say, Andy was valiantly attempting to ignore two big blisters and we made it about 6km of the 10km downward trek before finding a taxi for the last bit.

So that was our “rest day”. Time to head back to training again…

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